A Yard Sign Advertising Lesson From The Onion

My nephew recently pointed out this bit from joke news site The Onion. (Link here.) It’s a pretty funny article – suggesting that the act of putting up one lawn sign has changed a losing candidate into a leading candidate.

Was going to pass it along just for the humor. But as humor does, it got me thinking. Of two things…

How Often Do We Expect Too Much Impact From Too Little Advertising Investment? The idea of a lawn sign having this impact is pretty funny – as is the idea of a candidate convincing themselves that it has that impact. That makes it easy for us sophisticated national marketers to laugh with the article.

Expecting too much from too little?

But…how often do we make this mistake? An agency I used to work for chose to begin advertising their services – so they bought a single full page, back cover ad in an industry magazine. Yup. Once. What a waste of a hard earned $20K.

Once a smaller entrepreneurial company called me with a total budget of $100K (creative, production, media). They wanted to do television, had heard about the impact of direct response television and wanted an impact on their national distribution in WalMart. Yikes. The best use of that money might have been a really motivating party for the staff – not TV.

More recently, a major multinational called me with a total budget of $500K and distribution at all the big box stores. They were planning to spend half the budget on production to get a really cool ad. Even though I appreciate their seeking quality, why waste $250K creating an ad that, essentially, no one is going to see?

(My question to both companies: Are those test budgets? The Answer: No. Those were the sum total expected for the campaign…ever.)

Integrated Campaigns Too Often Lead to “Too Little” Situations. So far, the examples are easy to spot. It get’s tougher when we turn to “integrated marketing” where often budgets are spread across too many types of media.

Yes, there is value from appearing in different media…when you can afford it. But, shouldn’t we be in the business of delivering great things from reasonable budgets? Spreading a budget that’s too small across an integrated campaign causes it’s impact to diminish – not grow.

Yet, Let’s Not Get Cocky…Lowly Bits of Marketing Are Often Important The lawn sign is a lowly item. It’s not big. It’s not impressive. But it does have value and it delivers that value at a low cost. (Lawn sign value is a combination of name recognition and an active neighborly endorsement.)

Point of Purchase (POP) is another “lowly” place where it’s not always smart to bring cleverness. Many of the best POP executions are fundamentally quite simple in their execution.

Another lowly medium (at least among the snooty circles of advertising) are the Sunday circulars. Circulars drive amazing volume of store traffic and sales by attracting people with good products and good deals directly communicated.

JC Penney’s is the latest retailer to have forgotten this (they seem to have forgotten many fundamentals lately). Let’s compare the last ones I saw from Target and JC Penney’s. Both nicely designed. But Target filled theirs with deals & product. The Penney’s circular looked like a Nordstrom’s catalog – vast expanses of white space, skinny models, chic clothing and nothing about the product or the deal. Far too clever and a waste of money.

So Let’s Laugh with the Article. Then let’s develop the humility to look critically at what we’re doing and make the smart choices that deliver the most in everything we do.

Copyright 2012 – Doug Garnett – All Rights Reserved

About Doug Garnett
Doug Garnett is an expert introducing innovative consumer products and services to market while driving higher return on innovation investment. His career has been spent in innovation and he is the president of Protonik, LLC - an innovation consultancy focused on marketing and innovation. Prior to founding Protonik, he was founder and CEO of ad agency Atomic Direct.

4 Responses to A Yard Sign Advertising Lesson From The Onion

  1. jc2it says:

    Good Points Doug. So for a small company with relatively low budget, would radio and streaming video be a better solution? So I create my video and radio advertisement, and then use radio to drive people to my website to view the product information and/or video marketing information. I suppose search might be another method for achieving similar results. I guess what I am asking is, if the budget cannot be increased then what methods should I use to reach the most qualified customers?

    • Doug Garnett says:

      A few of thoughts…

      First, if the budget can’t be increased, then you need to make certain your expectations are in line with the money you have. In both cases I noted, these companies were expecting far too large an impact for that money. When looking for a mass market-level impact, TV does that far cheaper than any other medium… But you have to be able to spend money to make it to happen.

      Second, you need to consider your “marketing problem”. Search is only effective if enough people are already searching for you. Some research I’ve seen suggests, though, that even if they are searching for you it’s the free search tweaking (to make sure your site comes up high) that has the most impact.

      If people aren’t already looking in enough volume, then finding a way to reach out and cause them to start looking is your key challenge. Radio is far less costly than TV to get into and to maintain small campaigns. But also look at Direct Mail (highly effective these days since the mail box isn’t as full) and even some magazine opportunities.

      Lastly, the danger in my examples is that these were hard budgets. Many people are able to use TV at a low level over a very long period of time to achieve really great things. https://dsgarnett.wordpress.com/2012/06/28/the-power-of-low-consistent-drtv-spending/

      If either of those clients had said “we’re just going to get started with this much and then we have $x/month thereafter and are committed to a couple of years” then my answer might have been far different.



  2. Mark Spector says:

    The article mentions an ad agency running just one ad.

    In 1985, I was at Marschalk (now Lowe). They ran a full page ad in the New York Times and Wall Street Journal. All white space with two small lines of type in the middle: “For good ads, call Mike.” The second line had the phone number.

    Callers to the number were greeted by a live person (remember those) who said, “Mike Lesser’s office, the Marschalk Company.” The ad generated lots of calls and press. In the net year, the agency landed a significant piece of the Xerox account and a new OTC pharmaceutical launch.

    It’s not the frequency, it’s the impact.

    • Doug Garnett says:

      Mark –

      Excellent example of a case where a one-time ad worked. They can. Interesting to me is that there was considerable “trade press” pick up. In other words, the clever placement of the ad was able to be used to multiply its “frequency” by getting the mere act of placement covered in trade press.

      The gold standard of this approach is the Apple 1984 ad. The ad itself only accomplished a certain amount. But the millions of dollars in equivalent coverage through trade and general press magnified the single placement.

      This post wasn’t intending to suggest it never makes sense (so thanks for giving us this great example). My sense is that one-time placements can work. But only when a large number of things align to make that happen. So if anyone were to approach me with a one-time strategy, there would need to be reason that it would leverage into far more media value than the single placement.

      With one-time placements, something extraordinarily clever in the creative is also critical as you note. And it has to be absolutely unique – or no one will cover it.

      In the situation you reflected, knowing the ad new business cycle, the soft connection to Xerox and OTC Pharm was most likely affected by trade press coverage.

      Businesses need reliable, predictable ways to drive business. My advice would be to use one-time strategies only rarely and when they are entirely unique. The rest of the time, spend when you have enough money to maintain a campaign. (BTW, in the aftermath of the Apple campaign, no other advertiser has been able to replicate the echo of that one-time campaign on the superbowl. Why? It’s been done already.)



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